Substance Awareness: Alcohol
While most of us enjoy ending our day with an icy mug of golden ale, wine or a glass of scotch whiskey – we may be hesitant to compare ourselves to an alcoholic. After all, we aren’t the binge drinking, keg standing college students that we see in movies. But are we in danger of going from a celebratory drink to wondering where all these empty bottles came from?
“We drink to one another’s health and spoil our own.”
~ Jerome K. Jerome
“Alcohol is not the answer to life’s questions.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.”
~ Frank Sinatra
In our society, alcohol is perceived differently by each person; by smell, age, texture, and color – just to name a few. While many enjoy sipping and comparing these different facets and boasting why their choice is the best, there are those who will misuse alcohol. The World Health Organization defines the hazardous use of alcohol as “a pattern of alcohol consumption, carrying with it the risk of harmful consequences,” being physical, mental, and/or social. It includes drinking more than the limits recommended by health authorities or where imposed by the law against such safety hazards stigmas such as public drunkenness and driving under the influence.
We are all at risk from hazardous drinking, regardless of age, gender, or nationality. The best way to protect ourselves is to stay informed. This is an easy process of asking a few questions:
- Just what does alcohol do to the body?
- What are the health risks from overdrinking?
- How long after consuming alcohol must we wait before operating a motor vehicle?
- How can we show that we are responsible consumers?
Our Body is in Danger
A common compound found in most alcoholic drinks is ethanol – a neurotoxin which can cause severe damage or even destroy the nervous system. When we see someone who is drunk, we are actually seeing someone who is suffering from a form of poisoning. The human body is capable of converting ethanol into harmless substances, but it isn’t an immediate process. If someone consumes alcohol faster than the body can handle, ethanol will build up in the system and begin to interfere with normal body functions. Some may start to feel the effects but pass it off as just “getting a buzz”.
But what is really happening?
Our speech, vision, coordination, thought, and behavior are all connected with a complex series of chemical reactions in the brain’s neurons. When ethanol is introduced it modifies those reactions, suppressing the role of neurotransmitters – chemicals that relay signals from neuron to neuron. This alters the stream of information in the brain, preventing it from functioning normally. This explains why we see slurred speech, blurred vision, slowed reflexes and weakened behavioral restraints and inhibitions – all common symptoms of intoxication.
If we regularly consume alcohol, our brain chemistry adapts to counter the poisonous effects of ethanol and maintain normal nerve function. This continual process will lead to tolerance, when the same amount of alcohol will have less of an effect as it would have previously.
Dependence happens when the brain has adapted so much that it cannot function properly without it. The body now craves alcohol in order to maintain the brain’s chemical balance. When the person is deprived of alcohol, the brain chemistry totally destabilizes and suffers from withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, trembling, or in some cases even seizures.
The liver processes what you eat and drink into energy and nutrients your body can use. The liver also break downs alcohol so it can be removed from your body. If you drink more alcohol than it can process, it can become seriously damaged. There are serious complications that arise from heavy and long term drinking.
Liver complications from alcohol-related disease
- buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- bleeding from veins in the esophagus or stomach
- enlarged spleen
- brain disorders and coma
- kidney failure
- liver cancer
In some cases, the damage is so serious that the only solution is for prescribed medication in order to manage the complications caused to the liver.
Your heart is responsible for making the blood flow through your body. It is about the size if a human fist and will beat more than 2.5 billion times over the course of a lifetime.
Similar to an engine, it needs to be in good condition to handle all the wear and tear. We want to do our best to ensure we our giving our heart the best treatment.
How alcohol benefits the heart
There are many studies that show how moderate drinking may have health benefits for your heart.
- Alcohol can work as an anticoagulant, meaning that it thins the blood so that platelets are less likely to form into clots, which can prevent heart attacks
- Alcohol seems to reduce coronary artery spasm during times of stress
- Alcohol can reduce blood insulin levels and increase estrogen levels
- Alcohol increases coronary blood flow
While this may appear as though alcohol is a necessity for good health, most of these results can be better achieved by eating right and exercising.
How alcohol damages the heart
Anyone who drinks an excessive amount of alcohol risks damage to their cardiovascular system. It is believed that 2 percent of the cases of coronary heart disease may relate to excessive drinking.
- Long-term abuse of alcohol can have a toxic effect on the heart muscle, causing it to become damaged; This damage can lead to heart failure and death
- Excessive alcohol intake can cause high blood pressure, putting extra strain on the heart as well as other body organs
- Drinking too much also increases the amount of fat circulating around in the blood stream; It raises the triglyceride level
- It increases the risk of developing diabetes, which can then impact cardiovascular health
One For the Road?
For almost as long as cars have been on the road, there have been restrictions on driving under the influence. In one year it was estimated that 2,541 individuals were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. MADD Canada estimates that at a minimum 1,082 of these fatalities were impairment-related.
If you drink on an empty stomach, the alcohol in your blood will reach its highest level within about 30 minutes after it is ingested. Despite popular opinion, drinking coffee or water, taking in fresh air, or doing physical exercise will not help you to sober up. There is only one thing that will reduce the effect of alcohol on the body, the passing of time.
Even if you drink a small amount of alcohol before driving, your ability will be impaired. Your reflexes and coordination will both be slowed down. Your eyesight will be affected, causing road signs to appear smaller. Peripheral vision as well as your ability to judge distance and focus on distant objects is reduced.
Contrary to popular opinion, should you be involved in an accident after consuming alcohol, it is likely that your injuries will be more serious than if you were sober. Even worse is the severe complications that arise during emergency surgery due to the effect of alcohol on your heart and blood circulation.
At T&P Trucking, we take these health risks very seriously. Not only do we want our drivers and employees to live a long healthy life, we also want them to be safe drivers on the road so that they and the public are kept safe and free from harm. We do this by strictly following regulations set out by Canadian Safety Association (CSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding mandatory random drug and alcohol testing to every person who operates a commercial motor vehicle. All of our drivers and employees are trained annually for drug and alcohol awareness, identification through observation and about our internal guidelines.
It is our policy that no hired or contracted vehicle operator of T&P Trucking may possess or consume any alcohol at any time while on active duty or within 8 hours of being on active duty. Should we find that an employee or driver is using drugs or alcohol that could affect the performance of a safety sensitive function, either through testing or by observation, we take immediate steps to remove the individual from harm’s way and help them by means of a managed recovery program.
Ultimately, we want our drivers and the public to be responsible and safety conscious when it comes to consuming alcohol. This means that each one of us owes it to each other to check ourselves from time to time to see if we have developed a dependency to alcohol. Breaking free from any kind of addiction is never easy. Taking action towards preventing alcohol abuse can be mentally and physically challenging. However, if a person knows where to start, it makes this challenge far less daunting.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
- Do you drink to escape from worries or troubles?
- Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
- Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
- Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?
- Have you ever felt remorse after drinking?
- Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
More information on recovery